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Thread: Baseball Hall of Fame, A Look from the Past

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Baseball Hall of Fame, A Look from the Past

    I thought about posting this in the 2010 Hall of Fame discussion, but decided that might hijack the current discussion. If mods think otherwise, please merge in with that thread. Interestingly, I don't think the Times allows their writers to participate in the balloting anymore.

    Bunning ultimately was selected by the Veterans Committee in 1996. Rose, ironically, had his fate changed dramatically by the end of the year this article was written, 1988.

    SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Blank Ballots By Writers Burn Bunning
    By Dave Anderson

    IN slamming the doors of Cooperstown on Jim Bunning's fingers, nine Baseball Hall of Fame voters each signed and mailed a blank ballot in this year's election. Had those voters chosen simply not to return a ballot, Bunning would be in the Hall of Fame with the slugger Willie Stargell. But the 224-game winner, one of the few pitchers with more than 100 victories in each league, remains on the outside looking in. Once again the Hall of Fame emerges as a philosophy as much as a museum.

    As a member of the House of Representatives from Kentucky, whose life is now geared to the democratic voting procedure in the nation's capital, Bunning was victimized by the democratic voting procedure of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

    Any baseball writer's Hall of Fame ballot reflects his own Hall of Fame standards. Some are too stringent, some are too lenient, some are somewhere in between. Agreement is impossible. But as long as a ballot reflects an honestly thoughtful opinion, it's a valid ballot. Opinion, after all, is what baseball is all about. And opinion is what its Hall of Fame is all about.

    THIS voter doesn't agree with those who mailed a blank ballot, but he agrees with their right to do it.

    This voter invariably fills all 10 slots on his Hall of Fame ballot, but only with candidates who qualify according to his standards. And those standards are too subjective to be defined. One man's candidate can be another man's outcast. Some voters prefer to vote for only two or three candidates, sometimes for only one. And as happened this year, nine preferred to vote for none.

    In order to be voted into the Hall of Fame, a candidate's name must appear on 75 percent of the total ballots cast by those who have been association members for at least 10 years.

    Of the 200 baseball personalities in the Hall of Fame, only 74 have been elected on the writers' ballot; the other 126 were chosen by the Veterans Committee or other special committees. But every so often, the writers' vote is strange. Nine of 415 ballots in 1982 did not include a vote for Henry Aaron. Of the 226 ballots in the original election in 1936, two did not include a vote for Ty Cobb, and 11 did not include a vote for Babe Ruth.

    But those writers who didn't vote for Aaron, Cobb and Ruth at least voted for somebody. In this year's election, nine voters didn't vote for anybody. Some didn't believe that a valid Hall of Fame candidate, not even Stargell, existed on this year's ballot. Others didn't think that Stargell deserved to go into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. But to this voter, if a player belongs, he belongs as much in his first year as in any future year.

    WITH 427 ballots cast this year, 321 votes were necessary for election. Stargell, the Atlanta Braves' coach who hit 475 home runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates, received 352 votes, more than enough. Bunning received 317 votes, four short. But if those nine no-name ballots had not been signed and mailed, thereby reducing the total number of ballots to 418, Bunning would have needed only 314 votes. His 317 would have been enough.

    Of the nine voters who signed blank ballots, seven were from the New York area, including Phil Pepe and Bill Madden of The Daily News, and Moss Klein of The Star-Ledger of Newark.

    ''To me, the Hall of Fame should be reserved for great players, not for very good or pretty good players,'' Madden said yesterday. ''I didn't consider my vote a vote against Stargell or Bunning as much as I considered it a statement of my Hall of Fame philosophy.''

    Another blank ballot was cast by the reigning baseball writers' president, Vern Plagenhoef, who covers the Detroit Tigers for eight Booth newspapers in Michigan.

    ''What steered me away from Bunning,'' said Plagenhoef, ''was that I'd never voted for him in the past. And his numbers really aren't that much different from Mickey Lolich, whom I also seriously considered. With Stargell, the first-year thing had something to do with it. I couldn't bring myself to vote for Stargell on the first ballot when players like Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto aren't in the Hall of Fame even though they were more dimensional than Stargell.''

    Fox, once the Chicago White Sox second baseman, missed by only two votes in 1985, his last year on the writers' ballot. Mazeroski, once the Pirates' second baseman, finished seventh this year with 143 votes. Rizzuto, once the Yankee shortstop in their glory years, has been discussed and rejected by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee in recent years but his candidacy is expected to be discussed again at the committee's March meeting.

    Timing occasionally helps a player's candidacy. Stargell happened to be the only truly outstanding candidate this year. And now that Bunning has missed again, he might not come so close in the years ahead. Next year, for example, Bunning must compete for votes with five first-time candidates with better credentials - Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins and Jim Kaat. In 1990, Joe Morgan and Jim Palmer will be eligible; in 1991, Rod Carew and Rollie Fingers.

    In 1992, of course, Pete Rose and Tom Seaver will have been sitting in Cooperstown's waiting room for the required five years.

    ''Do you think I'll be a unanimous choice?'' Rose once asked Jack Lang, the writers' association secretary-treasurer who counts the ballots each year. ''Do you think I'll be the first unanimous choice?''

    ''Hank Aaron wasn't even unanimous,'' Lang said. ''Who knows how the writers will vote? Some guys think Bo Derek is a 9.''
    “In the same way that a baseball season never really begins, it never really ends either.” - Lonnie Wheeler, "Bleachers, A Summer in Wrigley Field"

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Baseball Hall of Fame, A Look from the Past

    Another examination of how HOF votes go.

    Questioning Hall of Fame Standards
    By Tim Joyce

    "I shall not today attempt further to define it; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it...."

    That famous statement, delivered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1973 when discussing a case involving obscenity, articulated how difficult it is to define, describe or quantify an elusive topic. This is a similar quandary that baseball Hall of Fame voters are faced with every year. While many inductees are obvious first-ballot choices, there are countless players that fire up debate regarding their merit for inclusion in Cooperstown. For every Ruth, Williams and Mays there are several in the mold of Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Don Sutton or Dave Parker - basically hundreds of players who straddle the borderline that separates a very good career from baseball immortality.

    This is particularly the case this winter as the 2010 class (to be announced on January 6th) is without a shoo-in for this most sought after recognition. So the voters will once again traverse that merciless thin line of balancing statistics versus anecdotal evidence. It is a task that has inevitably led to contentious discussions about many who reside in the Hall and for those who were perhaps wrongfully excluded from being invited to the legacy party.

    Now, the entire HOF voting process would become moot if Cooperstown adopted clear-cut statistical rules for entry. But that would be a travesty. The LPGA Hall of Fame takes this approach as there is a simple (and most difficult to achieve as a player as there are only 23 women players represented) way of judging one's worth. It is based on the number of major tournaments and awards accumulated throughout a career. While this can work in women's golf, it is an impossibility with a game as varied, detailed and truly intangible as baseball.

    So we're left with the attempt at harmonizing statistics and anecdotal evidence for proof of greatness. Invoking Justice Stewart, there are just some players who, while not brandishing a gaudy stat line, nevertheless were intimidating forces in the game, feared by their peers and deserve a closer look for enshrinement. But unfortunately, too often this unscientific way of measuring is cast aside for the safer route of statistics. After all, we're living in a Bill James and fantasy baseball world aren't we - and though the art and science of baseball stats has advanced exponentially past the standard HR, RBI, AVG. analysis, as we seek to find the true measure of a player through slugging, on-base percentage and other crucial offensive measuring sticks, there is always that evanescent factor present when in the process of consideration.

    And of course there's also that other matter, that eternal sports argument when discussing greatness - consistency versus compressed brilliance. Consistency should be a part - only a part, not the overriding factor to consider. After all it is the Hall of Fame, not an edifice of enumeration.

    There are some current players who will have that rare combination of stats and intangibles when their time is up. Derek Jeter, who is sure to gather well more than 3,000 hits to augment his stellar instinctual play, is the easiest example. But he is rare.

    So it often comes down to one's personality as a voter. Are they an idealist and romantic - or a pure pragmatist? Do they prefer a comet that shines bright but brief or the slow burn of a candle? Driven more by logic or instinct? Unless a directive is handed down, there is not a right or wrong way to approach the topic of HOF standards. But many, myself included, do believe that the voting has been a bit generous too often. After all, we don't want the supposed preserver of the legacy of our greatest sport to go the way of the trophy generation that we inhabit today where accolades are made meaningless due to their utter ubiquity.

    I liken this process somewhat to the grueling admission procedure for an elite college. The university has to consider standard test scores as well as class standing, grades and extracurricular activities. After all, someone could have stellar grades in a non-competitive high school but just above average test scores - and vice versa. It's not dissimilar to baseball. A pitcher can compile more than 200 wins in an above average career if he stays healthy. But a pitcher who possesses a greater arsenal of weapons may be eliminated from consideration from the Hall as perhaps he couldn't surpass the .500 mark in wins.

    Such is the case with Bert Blyleven, who is on this year's ballot for the 13th time (if the man with one of the greatest curveballs in history isn't nominated by 2012, he'll have to hope for inclusion via the Veteran's Committee). Consider Blyleven's numbers -- fifth all-time in strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, 27th in wins (frequently pitching for bad teams). He is the only member of the 3000 strikeout club not to have a plaque in upstate New York. So stats he does possess, except for a mediocre winning percentage.

    A good comparison for Blyleven would be that of former Dodgers pitcher and 1998 inductee Don Sutton. Sutton had the advantage of pitching for a perennial playoff contender while the tall Blyleven languished for years on weak teams. Their numbers are quite similar - neither won 20 games more than once. But Blylven pitched a no-hitter which Sutton didn't and Blyleven had more strikeouts in nearly 100 fewer starts and had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. If one is judging just by statistics alone, Blyleven is clearly deserving of induction. And while Sutton was a very good pitcher - of that there is no doubt - I'd guess that if players were to ask who they dreaded facing at the plate, Sutton or Blyleven, I'm sure it'd be two-to-one in favor of Blyleven.

    But this presents a slippery slope - if so many players can lay claim to similar stats and importance to their team as those who are in the Hall of Fame, then where does it end? It would ramp up a lowering of standards that would render meaningless the value of election. Are the eminently likable trio of Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto and Ryne Sandberg all deserving of their residence in Cooperstown? Many would argue not.

    Kiner had a few truly awesome power years but his jovial ways with the media may have played a more significant role in his inclusion. Rizzuto (who, truth be told, was more worthy as an announcer) was a key member of those incredible Yankees teams from the 40's and early 50's but if one examines his stats and value to a team, then Barry Larkin - who is eligible this year - warrants entrance through the gates. And Larkin will most likely never make the trip to Cooperstown. Sandberg - while he was a great all-around player and one of the best defensive players of his generation, his offensive numbers pale in comparison to Dave Parker (and Parker had an incredible arm as that greatest of throws in the 1979 All-Star game is the stuff of legend) and Don Mattingly, two players whose careers were interrupted - for different reasons - or else they'd be first-ballot locks.

    Perhaps there should be a "submission of reasoning" of some sort for HOF voters -- if they voted for player A one year but didn't endorse player B in an ensuing year and that player B was seemingly a better ballplayer - tangibly and intangibly - then that vote would have to be explained. If there is no examination of voting then there is that clear risk of diminishing the Hall itself.

    Every passionate fan and chronicler of the sport has their examples of grievous miscarriages of justice concerning the HOF when discussing their favorite player(s). The list is endless - Roger Maris, Ron Santo, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Joe Gordon, etc. There can be statistical and/or anecdotal justification for nearly every player who has barely missed inclusion.

    Another man who has waited a long time to find out if he will ever be awarded the sports' highest honor is Andre Dawson who, along with Blyleven, has as a good a chance as ever this year with a thinner field. But though Dawson was a stellar fielder (which is overlooked far too often) and an above average hitter with strong power numbers (especially at Wrigley Field), his overall offensive prowess pales in comparison to Edgar Martinez who is also on this year's ballot for the first time. Though Dawson had more home runs and RBI's, he accomplished this over several more seasons and he had far fewer all-around powerful offensive seasons - factoring in strikeout to walk ratio, batting average, slugging, on-base percentage - than did Martinez. If I were to cast a vote this year, Edgar would be my only non-pitcher selection, to go along with Blyleven.

    Yet with Martinez, there's the knock that he played the majority of his career as a DH - in fact he's the first one in such a position to be a serious contender for enshrinement. But why should this count against him? It's part of the game and no DH has ever performed better. And just marvel at this fact --- Martínez, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Manny Ramirez, and Todd Helton are the only players in history with 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average higher than .300, a career on-base percentage higher than .400 and a career slugging percentage higher than .500.

    Whatever transpires with the voting from those 575 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, there is guaranteed to be controversy. But isn't that the way it's supposed to be? After all, baseball is the most conversation-inducing of all our games and passionate debate encompassing the numerical, the legal and myth-making is purely American. And lest we forget about the managers ... Whitey Herzog is getting a plaque this year - and not Billy Martin? Let the conversation commence anew.
    “In the same way that a baseball season never really begins, it never really ends either.” - Lonnie Wheeler, "Bleachers, A Summer in Wrigley Field"

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